Under the shade of a big Monkeypod tree in the Kihei Kalama Village you will find an unusually sweet education opportunity. The newly renovated space across from Three’s Bar and Grill is home to Hawaii Fudge Company’s Fudge University, one of Maui’s newest interactive activity centered around artisan candy making.
I met with owners Steve Bick (president), Jonathan Todd (senior vice president) and Chelsea Stone (vice president of operations) to talk about their Hawaii Fudge Company fudge. Turns out this sweet idea came from a moment Bick had while he was on vacation. After enjoying the fudge at Lahaina Fudge Company–where it’s made in a tiny shop sandwiched between Cheeseburger in Paradise and the Gelato shop on the 900 block of Front Street–Bick had a vision for the future of these chocolatey delights, and bought the shop.
“When I purchased it, it was one store and a few employees,” says Bick. “We had high turnover back then. This whole store was 110 square feet. We made the fudge in the back and it was dark and dingy. Then we opened the Kihei location and that’s when we hired Chelsea.”
His concept was to build a Hawaii candy company that could be an international sensation.
“We want to grow this company into an international brand using Hawaii as the base,” says Bick. “It’s a fantastic base here, we have a lot of opportunities for growth. If we can take this and become a brand that would really take us somewhere. That’s where we’re going now. We have grown from a staff of two to a staff of 30. I think we must be one of the fastest growing companies on Maui right now.”
The Hawaii Fudge Company kept expanding, and Stone was quick to step up and take on any responsibility that came her way, making her an irreplaceable part of the company. Bick was quick to recognize her talents.
“We lost our production person and Chelsea jumped in and said, ‘Don’t worry, I think I can handle it,’” remembers Bick. “We took a gamble with her, and sure enough she outperformed. Then the quality of the fudge shot up.”
Stone was promoted quickly, and was an integral part of the company growth.
“I started in Kihei as the dishwasher,” says Stone, now VP of Operations for Hawaii Fudge Company. “Gradually from there as people fell out, I fell right into place. I love this job. I come from a troubled past, I did a year in jail, and I was in the drug court program. This job has given me the opportunity of a lifetime to actually make a difference. Making fudge is really hard work. You just have to get in there, prep your ingredients, measure everything out, melt it all down. Everything has to be at the right consistency and temperature.”
Their fudge comes in all colors and flavors from fruity to chocolatey. Hawaii Fudge Company has also expanded their creamy candy selection and they have toffee and caramels. Experimenting with new candy flavors in the store turned out to be a bigger challenge than they anticipated.
“Chelsea and I were working on our toffee recipes,” says Bick. “We have an induction stove in the shop in Kihei and we are stirring away, and the temperature would go up and down because the electric wasn’t so stable. We would trip the fuse box, shared in the coffee shop on the corner. So Chelsea would have to run next door to trip the switch. We figured out that you could either cook toffee or have the air conditioner on, but not both.”
Stone is behind the plethora of fudge flavors you find in the Hawaii Fudge Company’s shops.
“We rotate flavors every three months,” says Stone. “On average I keep about 20 different flavors on the shelves. We also have six flavors of toffee. We had three flavors of toffee for a while and we just added on three new flavors: peanut butter, mint and butterscotch. We also have caramels in original, banana, coconut, coffee and almond. Honestly, my job is pretty fun. I get to create flavors of fudge. I get to do a lot of events, and that’s always fun. The thing that’s most exciting is when people try the fudge and you see that expression of pure joy on their face.”
After getting the electricity sorted out, they opened a bigger location next door to house their Fudge University–home of new fudge-making classes.
“The ultimate idea for cooking class is to expand the Hawaii Fudge Company brand,” says Bick. “Ultimately we want people to have fun. The base will be ready in the bowl. The participants will be able to choose specialty flavors and taught how to swirl, pour and layer. Then they get to take the product with them in a nice box presentation. Then they can say, ‘Look, I made this fudge.’”
Keeping tabs on their small batch production is still the goal.
“As soon as you get to Cadbury-size scaling, and you are making bathtubs and room-size batches of fudge using industrial stuff, you lose taste profile,” says Todd. “You just can’t have either the consistency or the delicacy of flavor. So you have to make it small. We would rather a bunch of small kettles then a big industrial manufactured operation. We’re not about cutting the pricing and eliminating the quality ingredients that we use. It’s not supposed to be a Twinkie. It’s supposed to be a real confection made with love on Maui.”
The new Hawaii Fudge Company store with Fudge University celebrates their grand opening with a Hawaiian blessing by Bene Chun and free fudge samples and refreshments from 4-7pm at 1947 S. Kihei Rd. July 6. Artist Robert King Andia will be there to sign artwork from his Ancients series, which are featured on their collectible fudge boxes.
Fudge making classes are $69 in July, and will go up to $89 a class after the introductory price. The fudge stores will also give out $10-off coupons for the fudge-making classes, and if you purchase fudge you can also get additional discounts on classes. For more information, call 808-214-6502.